My aunt Malka was twelve and a half years old when she was brought to Auschwitz. Except for her two-year-older sister, not a soul of her family was left alive.
From then on, the sisters held on to each other and never parted their whole life.
At the entrance to the gas chambers, some of the girls were sent to forced labor, instead.
I will not go into a detailed description of my aunt’s history in that dark place. I will just focus on a single man. I don’t know his name, and neither did my aunt and her friends.
The man was a German sentry who stood at the opening separating their sleeping area from their workplace, and every morning, whenever they crossed that line, he would whisper, fearing his mates would overhear him: “Hold on… Hold on…” And nothing more.
For the girls, these words, uttered by a German soldier, were a ray of hope and faith in their dark, suffocating routine.
Among themselves, they called him ‘Moishale’.
They knew nothing about the ongoing war, but one morning, the man whispered: “Hold on, the Russians are coming”.
And the Russians, indeed, came.
They opened the gates of the camp, freed the prisoners, and shot dead every single person wearing a German uniform.
The girls, however, surrounded the hope-whisperer, saying that they would not get out without him. The Russians did not insist and the German soldier was free to go.
I cannot stop thinking of that story and of the correlation with the present.
When I began my activism in Palestine, I told my auntie Malka about it. She only asked me two questions. “Isn’t it dangerous? Is it helpful?”
I told her that no, I do not feel in danger, but that I cannot really tell her whether my work is helpful.
What I do know, is that – in a Palestinian child’s world – a Jew is a soldier, threatening him with a gun; a soldier who humiliates and arrests his father while invading his home at night. I also know that when such a child meets a woman who looks at him and strokes his head, he feels slightly better.
Malka stayed silent for a few seconds, and then she said: “Oh Tamar, you are their ‘Moishale’…”
Maybe, I am not a ‘Moishale’, but every year, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I remember my aunt Malka, ‘Moishale,’ and I can’t stop looking at the photos of all the Palestinian children I have met.
(All Photos: Tamar Fleishman, The Palestine Chronicle)
(Translated by Tal Haran)